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in philosophy, theory that considers the universe explicable in terms of many principles or composed of many ultimate substances. It describes no particular system and may be embodied in such opposed philosophical concepts as materialismmaterialism,
in philosophy, a widely held system of thought that explains the nature of the world as entirely dependent on matter, the fundamental and final reality beyond which nothing need be sought.
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 and idealismidealism,
the attitude that places special value on ideas and ideals as products of the mind, in comparison with the world as perceived through the senses. In art idealism is the tendency to represent things as aesthetic sensibility would have them rather than as they are.
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. EmpedoclesEmpedocles
, c.495–c.435 B.C., Greek philosopher, b. Acragas (present Agrigento), Sicily. Leader of the democratic faction in his native city, he was offered the crown, which he refused. A turn in political fortunes drove him and his followers into exile.
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, G. W. von LeibnizLeibniz or Leibnitz, Gottfried Wilhelm, Baron von
, 1646–1716, German philosopher and mathematician, b. Leipzig.
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, William JamesJames, William,
1842–1910, American philosopher, b. New York City, M.D. Harvard, 1869; son of the Swedenborgian theologian Henry James and brother of the novelist Henry James.
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, and Bertrand RussellRussell, Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3d Earl,
1872–1970, British philosopher, mathematician, and social reformer, b. Trelleck, Wales.
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 are among the philosophers generally considered as pluralistic. See also monismmonism
[Gr.,=belief in one], in metaphysics, term introduced in the 18th cent. by Christian von Wolff for any theory that explains all phenomena by one unifying principle or as manifestations of a single substance.
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 and dualismdualism,
any philosophical system that seeks to explain all phenomena in terms of two distinct and irreducible principles. It is opposed to monism and pluralism. In Plato's philosophy there is an ultimate dualism of being and becoming, of ideas and matter.
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the situation within a state or social organization in which power is shared (or held to be shared) among a multiplicity of groups and organizations. The original use of the term was in association with opposition to the Hegelian conception of the unitary state. In a socialist conception of pluralism, Guild Socialism, the dispersal of economic and political power to occupational groups was proposed as an ideal. However, the most important use of the term in modern sociology and political science is the suggestion that modern Western liberal democracies are pluralistic polities, in which a plurality of groups and/or élites either share power or continuously compete for power (see also PLURAL ÉLITISM). Compare PLURAL SOCIETY.



a philosophical position, according to which there are several or many independent principles or kinds of being that are not reducible to each other (ontological pluralism), and several or many sources and forms of knowledge (epis-temological pluralism). The term was coined by the German philosopher C. Wolff in 1712. The opposite of pluralism is monism.

There are various forms of pluralism, including dualism, which asserts that there are two basic principles, the material and the ideal. A number of extreme variants of pluralism claim that there are not two but many first principles and generally reject the idea of the unity of the world. The history of philosophy may be viewed not only as the struggle between pluralism and monism but also as the clash between various forms of pluralism (for example, materialist versus idealist pluralism). Classical atomism, for example, was a materialist variant of pluralism, since Democritus believed that the atoms differed qualitatively and were not reducible to each other. The opposite viewpoint, the idealist variant of pluralism, which is represented by Leibniz, contends that the world consists of an infinite multitude of spiritual substances called monads.

The qualitative description of reality, which was characteristic of knowledge before the rise of the exact sciences (classical mechanics and quantitative chemistry), posited many heterogeneous principles (for example, the “four elements”—water, air, earth, and fire), each of which described a particular sphere of reality with its specific qualities. Modern science, which endeavors to discover the relationships between phenomena and to reduce the qualitative diversity of phenomena to quantitatively measurable, unitary principles, flatly rejects pluralism. Classicist philosophy of the 17th and 18th centuries was, on the whole, monistic, for it tried to comprehend being as something unitary and integral. In this respect, it concurred with the orientation of classical natural science, which transformed mechanics into the universal and only valid means of explaining reality.

The evolution of idealist philosophy in the late 19th and 20th centuries was characterized by a growing tendency toward pluralism. This trend was manifested primarily in personalism, which is based on the idea that every personality is unique; in the “philosophy of life” school; in pragmatism (W. James); in existentialism; and in N. Hartmann’s critical ontology.

In epistemology the trend toward pluralism was associated with the revolution in physics at the turn of the 20th century, with the crisis in previously accepted ways of explaining the world, and with the transcending of mechanistic materialism and the formation of new conceptual systems, which at first seemed to be independent of each other.

The transformation of pluralism into a conscious methodological position is characteristic of a number of schools of idealist “philosophy of science,” including H. Poincaré’s conventionalism (France) and the “critical methodology” proposed by the British philosopher K. Popper and his students (for example, P. Feyerabend), who refer to their point of view as “theoretical pluralism.” At the same time, an opposite tendency toward the integration of knowledge and the construction of a unitary model of the world has been growing stronger in science.

In contemporary bourgeois sociology, pluralism as a methodological orientation is represented by several theories, including the theory of factors and the theory of political pluralism, which treats the mechanism of political power as the conflict and balance of groups with opposite or differing interests (see). A number of ideologists of right-wing and “left-wing” revisionism claim that there is pluralism in Marxism. To support their assertion they cite the existence of various equally valid interpretations of Marxist doctrine (for example, the scientistic and anthropological interpretations), as well as the existence of many “models” of socialism that have nothing in common. These antiscientific theories reject the international character of Marxism-Leninism and the general laws that apply to the building of socialist society.

Dialectical materialism overcomes the limitations of both vulgar monism and pluralism, simultaneously stressing the material unity of the world and developing the doctrine that matter is characterized by qualitatively different forms of motion and that the various spheres and levels of being are both diverse and interconnected in complex ways.


James, W. Vselennaia s pliuralisticheskoi tochki zreniia. Moscow, 1911.
Tsekhmistro, I. Z. Dialektika mnozhestvennogo i edinogo. Moscow, 1972.
Laner, P. Pluralismus oder Monismus. Berlin, 1905.
Jakowenko, B. Vom Wesen des Pluralismus. Bonn, 1928.
Der Methoden und Theorienpluralismus in den Wissenschaften. Meisen-heim am Glan, 1971.



1. the holding by a single person of more than one ecclesiastical benefice or office
2. Philosophy
a. the metaphysical doctrine that reality consists of more than two basic types of substance
b. the metaphysical doctrine that reality consists of independent entities rather than one unchanging whole
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